DALLAS — Big 12 Conference expansion has officially begun.
The league announced at the conclusion of Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday that the Board of Directors has unanimously authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to immediately begin the process of sifting through candidates and expand membership by 2-4 schools starting in 2017.
That doesn’t mean expansion is assured, but it seems highly unlikely the conference would formally begin such a process and then choose to remain at 10 members.
OU president and chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors David Boren said Bowlsby will “recontact those schools who have expressed interest in us, who have come to us, and to find out exactly the nature of the interest, evaluate what proposals they might make in accordance with their interest, and then he’ll be reporting back to us.”
Bowlsby said it will be a two-stage process. The first is a preliminary examination of all the potential candidates, the second is a deep-diving, fact-finding mission that will eventually include negotiations.
Bowlsby said something solid may be known at the league’s next scheduled meeting in October, or Big 12 CEOs could meet sooner than that and decide something then.
Bowlsby and Boren declined to discuss candidates, or even whether possible candidates could be mined from other Power 5 conferences.
“If we are to expand, we want to find the strongest possible partners for expansion,” Boren said.
The main factors Bowlsby and the board will consider include the size and involvement of a given school’s fan base, the size and potential growth of a school’s television market, a school’s academic reputation and, Boren said, “academic integrity,” among other factors.
“A number of universities have contacted the Big 12 to express interest in our conference,” Boren said. “… I want to underline the fact that the Big 12 Conference has not gone out and sought conversations with other schools. Other schools have come to us.
“Sometimes you may think you have to change your cell phone number because of the number of schools that want to express interest in joining the Big 12 Conference. It’s nice to be in a position where you’re wanted.”
Expansion to 12 or 14 members would not diminish or dilute the rest of the league’s revenue stream, Boren said. That figure came to just over $30 million per school last year, and would be expected to continue to climb.
If the new members are from a Group of 5 Conference — the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sun Belt Conference — or an independent such as BYU, those schools would see their revenue skyrocket from just a few million dollars to in excess of $30-35 million by 2021 or 2022 when fully vested.
Monday’s news that the Atlantic Coast Conference has finalized plans to develop an ACC Network with ESPN and agreed to a 20-year grant-of-rights that locks up each school’s media rights was not the impetus for Tuesday’s news out of the Big 12, but it was, Boren said, “an important development, something for us to watch because it serves notice on us that we are still a part of a very changing environment in intercollegiate sports, that we can not just sit on the sidelines and not be proactive ourselves.”
Just last month, at the league’s annual spring business meetings, Boren and Bowlsby said the idea of a Big 12 Network was all but dead because a sagging sports television market wouldn’t support the addition of another conference network to rival those of the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten Conference or the Pac-12 Conference. If the Big 12 ever did move forward with a league network, Boren and Bowlsby said, it would most likely be in a digital-only format, perhaps online streaming, rather than a traditional network carried by cable and satellite providers.
Also last month, Bowlsby and Boren said expansion talk was essentially tabled, deferring to additional discussion and further evaluation from consulting firms in Chicago and New York.
The Big 12 always has been derided for its lack of decision-making or its inability to come to a consensus on important topics. But, for now, it seems firm on expansion.
“Other conferences have grown, other advantages have come to them,” Boren said. “… Financial advantages, competitive advantages, opportunities to play for national championships.
“It’s a forward step. It’s a positive step. It’s not yet a decision … but it’s definitely a forward step and I think it shows momentum on the board to very seriously consider this as a possibility.”